Tag Archives: holidays

poissons d’avril

Okay, I took this picture of fish in February, not April. But it’s April now, and I’m pretty sure the fish are still more or less where I left them. (Which was in the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park.) I liked the way this group of koi displayed such a range of colors.

My post title, in case you were wondering, is a reference to the way the first of April is celebrated in France, a sort of fish-themed April Fool’s Day. The main tradition is to put a piece of paper in the shape of a fish on the back of an unsuspecting person, and to shout “poisson d’avril!” (translation: “April fish!”) when the fish is discovered. I kid you not.¹

¹ I kid you not, but I would totally try to sneak a paper fish onto your back.

The Year of the Horse, coming around once again

Happy New Year! Welcome to the year of the horse.

I love the cyclical nature of the Chinese zodiac. To celebrate the return of the horse, I offer up a set of photos of merry-go-round horses going around and around.

I am still working through my list of suggested and requested posts. Coming up soon will be a post from my now-not-so-recent trip to Hong Kong. (Yes, YTSL, I am really working on it!) I still welcome additional suggestions for things to post! Just leave a comment on my earlier post, and I will happily integrate new suggestions into my list.

Harvest Home

With the big changes that have happened in our family this past year have come smaller changes. For as long as I can remember, we have spent Thanksgiving down at my in-laws’ in New York.¹ It seems quite likely that we have never before had Thanksgiving here in our own house.

This year, as I said, things changed. Since she is no longer taking care of my father-in-law full-time, my mother-in-law is now free to travel. John’s siblings, who all 3 live in Texas for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, invited their mom to spend Thanksgiving in Texas. This meant that, amazingly, we had no plans to travel ourselves for Thanksgiving. We would have the holiday at home.

While I have enjoyed the times visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I was quite happy about the idea of staying home. I usually do all the cooking for our subset of the family for Thanksgiving anyhow, so that part was not a change. I was particularly happy about the idea of using our own dining room, and using our good china.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of holiday meals at my grandmother’s house. She had an extensive collection of china and serving ware, from a variety of family sources. The china cabinet covered one whole wall of the dining room in her house, with floor-to ceiling shelves hidden away by 3 wooden sliding doors. Setting the table with the fancy dishes was something of a cross between a ceremony and a reunion with much loved friends.

My children will never get to visit my grandmother’s house, but I am quite taken with the idea of starting the tradition of the holiday table here at home with them. (Holiday meals at my in-laws’ had become increasingly simplified and informal in recent years, with dinners typically eaten up in my in-laws’ bedroom at a card table.)

Today, we spent time clearing the dining room of the detritus of various projects, and we set the table in earnest: heirloom linen table cloth, cloth table runner and napkins, glass goblets, special silver, and candles. And, of course, the good china. We donned our fancy clothes and celebrated our bounty and our thankfulness for our family and our home.


The spread. Phoebe is here wearing a dress that had been my sister’s in the late 70s, and then my cousin’s.


Our turkey-less turkey day feast: Tofurkey with roasted root vegetables, stuffing, green beans. Not shown in this photo: fresh baked bread, cranberry sauce that Phoebe made, and mashed potatoes. Everyone participated in the preparation of the meal.


Our feast wasn’t entirely turkey-free: Phoebe made this little guy to grace our table.


Ready to dig in.


My pie. (With a rather sad frozen gluten-free crust, but the pumpkin part was very tasty.)

Hours later, I am still feeling full. And also rather fulfilled.²

¹ There may have been a few years when my work schedule interfered. I vaguely remember working Thanksgiving the one year I worked as a waitress, and then it’s possible that it was sometimes hard to travel on the day before Black Friday in the years I worked in retail. But even that was a long time ago, as I quit my retail job almost 14 years ago.
² But also somewhat daunted by the thought of all the hand-washing of fragile and heirloom dishes that is yet to be done.

stars, stripes, hearts, cupcakes

In honor of American Independence Day, I present an assorted collection of American flag things from my archives. Happy 4th of July!

Easy as pie

pi pie
My 2010 Pi Pie

Happy Pi Day! In celebration of Pi Day¹, and its auspicious landing on a Thursday, I offer to you this very large helping of pie-themed things. Mmmm, pie.

  • Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie: a line from the nursery rhyme Sing of song of sixpence²:

    Sing a song of sixpence
    a pocket full of rye
    four and twenty blackbirds
    baked in a pie

  • Little Jack Horner: Another nursery rhyme with pie.

    Little Jack Horner
    Sat in the corner,
    Eating a Christmas pie;
    He put in his thumb,
    And pulled out a plum,
    And said ‘What a good boy am I!

  • little jack horner  wsatterlee 1882 king with pie 012

  • Can she make a cherry pie?: A line from the folk song Billy Boy.
  • pie in the sky: used to describe plans or hopes considered unrealistic and overly optimistic
  • “high apple pie in the sky hopes”: a line from the song High Hopes, a song sung by Frank Sinatra
  • as easy as pie: an expression meaning “very easy.” In my experience, pie is not the easiest thing in the world to make. It involves crust, an oven, preparation of ingredients.³
  • “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” a quote by Carl Sagan
  • As American as apple pie: an expression meant to describe something quintessentially American. Of course, many cultures have versions of apple pies.⁴ Apple pie has nevertheless achieved a place in American culture:

    Although apple pies have been eaten since long before the European colonisation of the Americas, “as American as apple pie” is a saying in the United States, meaning “typically American”.[14] In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, apple pie became a symbol of American prosperity and national pride. A newspaper article published in 1902 declared that “No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.”[15] The dish was also commemorated in the phrase “for Mom and apple pie” – supposedly the stock answer of American soldiers in World War II, whenever journalists asked why they were going to war.[16]

    (From the Apple Pie Wiki Page⁵.)

  • American Pie: Don McLean’s signature song, first released in 1971. Bye-bye Miss American Pie… (I’m quite fond of this large-scale lip dub video version of the song produced by the city of Grand Rapids Michigan.)
  • American Pie (1999): a movie that includes various analogies of sex and pie.
  • pie-eyed: drunk
  • piebald: having patches of black and white (or other colors), especially describing the coat of an animal.
  • pie chart: a type of graph in which proportions of a whole (such as a whole data set) are depicted as wedges of a circle
    pie-pie-chart
  • piece of the pie: an expression meaning a share in something, such as a reward or credit.
  • mud pie: a pattie-shaped blob of mud, commonly made when playing in the mud
  • sweetie pie: a common term of endearment
  • cow pie: Not actually a pie made of cow (that would would be a beef pot pie), but a lump of cow manure. (Definitely not a term of endearment)
  • pie in the face: a bit of slapstick comedy, usually involving a whipped cream pie. Just like it sounds, it involves someone getting a pie in the face.
  • 10 banana cream pies: Sesame Street once featured a rather clumsy baker who would stand at the top of a flight of stairs, and announce the number of some sort of dessert he was holding, before falling and spilling all of them. He may not actually have used banana cream pies for 10, but the phrase seems to have stuck. (cf. the use on the show The Family Guy.)

Have more pies to bring to the table? Throw ‘em in the comments.

¹ So-called, as the date (at least as it is written here in the US) is 3-14, is reminiscent of the number Pi’s initial 3 digits: 3.14. My past celebrations of Pi Day have included easy as pi, my personal gallery of Pi Pies, and a Pi-themed list.
²I was surprised to learn that this nursery rhyme was actual used by pirates to convey messages. This is the sort of thing that would usually send me to Snopes to check, but in this case Snopes is where I found it.
³ Toast is much easier to make.
⁴ I love tarte aux pommes as made in France. You know what was hard to get in France when I lived there, though? Doritos.
⁵Really. Apple pie has a Wiki page. So do pumpkin pie, pecan pie and cherry pie.

Images: Little Jack Horner and the king with the pie are both from Project Gutenberg.

Happy Year of the Snake!

Today is the day to ring in the Year of the Snake.


These are some Japanese clay bells that I bought in San Francisco’s Japantown 12 years ago. I’m quite fond of them. Who knew that snakes could be so cute?

photographing fireworks (friday foto finder: fireworks)

In the US, the 4th of July (aka Independence Day) is traditionally celebrated with (among other things¹) displays of fireworks. We took the kids to see some fireworks a couple of years ago at a nearby town, and this year we went to a school field at a different nearby town. (Our own town doesn’t host any such displays.) Both times, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture the fireworks in photos. I’ve learned a bit more about how to use my camera² in the past 2 years, so I think I had a higher success to failure ratio this time around. (So funny to realize that July of 2010 was before I embarked on my daily photography adventure for project 365.)

As best I can tell, it helps to have a camera that you can set to full manual mode: you’ll want to set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO levels, and also not try to rely on auto focus. (Things typically move too fast with fireworks for my camera to find a focus on its own.) I played around quite a bit with the settings, and took probably well over a hundred photos, to get some shots that I liked. (Two of the great things about digital photography are the cheapness of taking so many exposures, and the near-live feedback about how your photos have worked out, letting you make adjustments accordingly.)

Here are a few of my favorite shots.


A big poof of red, with white and blue accents. (This was taken with my telephoto lens, zoomed to 45 mm: aperture f/4, iso 1400, shutter speed 1/50.)

Next I switched over to my 20 mm fixed-length lens, which can open to a really wide aperture. It looks like I stuck around an aperture of f/1.8, set the iso down to 400, and then a shutter speed of 1/10 (a tenth of a second).


This is one of my favorites, as it reminds me of a dandelion gone to seed.


This was taken at a lower shutter speed (1/2, or a half second), and the added blur gave the effect of shards of ice crystals.


This was another slow one, and it reminds me of ribbon.


This upward-dripping effect may have been due to me playing around with moving the camera as I took the shot. (I do remember intentionally moving the camera for some shots, but don’t remember whether this was one of them. It’s also possible that somebody bumped me. Or maybe I sneezed.)


Many of the colors didn’t come out for me, except when a single color dominated. I liked the way this one, while sparse as the blooms went, showed a wide range of intense colors.


I love all the shapes formed by the puffs of smoke in this one. I see butterflies and flowers and ducks. Also a few blobs of oatmeal.


Here’s an early one from the show, where I was still trying to work out the focus. Clearly, I missed, but I like the result anyhow.


Theo was quite scared by the fireworks 2 years ago, or at least by the loud noises. (He did like the pretty lights.) This year, he only half-heartedly covered his ears. Phoebe was fully entranced. (Here I had to crank the ISO way up to 1600 to see anything. The red glow is likely from some red fireworks–the only light I had in this shot.)

I have a few more shots in the slideshow below in case you are compelled to see more. Click on the photos above to see them bigger.

And in case you are wondering why I’m now posting 6-month old photos, it’s to participate in …um… last week’s³ friday foto finder with the theme of “fireworks.” (The photos would have been exactly 6 months old if I’d managed to post on Friday!)

To see what fireworks people were celebrating, go check out the friday foto finder blog. And if you’d like to participate this Friday, the theme will chocolate.

¹ Also hot dogs, potato salad and flag-waving.
² An Olympus Pen E-P1, which I have been known to refer to as “my epi-pen.”
³ It was a hectic week, and the last few days were a crunch of presentation preparation followed by a bit of conference attending. This time without traveling.

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Tidings of comfort and joy.

For the past several years, Neil of Citizen of the Month has put together a remarkable online concert to celebrate the many and varied holidays of the winter season, and he has graciously hosted once more. Please go check out the amazing musical and photographic stylings on exhibit at The Seventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert. As always, the entries are varied and wondrous.

I didn’t manage to get my act together this round, for a variety of reasons, but I hope to again next year. You can find me and my voice in several of the past concerts, but I’m too lazy to see which. Last year was one.

I have been in a dark place since Friday, but I’m not yet ready to share those thoughts. Too many thoughts. I wrote something on Monday, but it is still too raw to post. In the meantime, I have taken comfort in many things, including music. Most of all, I take comfort in having my little ones with me and holding them close.

May they remember only joy this holiday season.